Homophobic Politicians Are Not a Joke
A very prevalent topic of conversation/lazy joke right now is, “Trump and Putin are lovers.” Maybe because the relationship between the U.S. and Russia is so wild right now, people can’t fathom what is driving Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin together, so they are trying to come up with the weirdest thing they can think of. Unfortunately, when people reach for an answer, they end up making very distasteful jokes. Namely, that these two men must be gay. Because what else could possibly make Trump feel so attached to Putin?
Saying Putin is gay is extra horrible because of how dangerous it is to be LGBTQ+ in Russia. Homosexuality in Russia was criminalized until 1993 and classified as a mental illness until 1999. Same sex marriage is still illegal in Russia. In 2013, Russia passed a law banning the “spreading of propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations to minors,” which led to an increase in hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people. Fortunately, those laws were ruled illegal in 2017. Also in 2017, it was revealed that Chechen authorities were rounding up and detaining more than 100 men who were suspected of being gay or bisexual in secret prisons. Recently, the Human Rights Campaign called out President Trump and his administration for refusing to publicly condemn the systematic torture, abuse, and murder of LGBTQ people occurring in Chechnya and normalizing Vladimir Putin, who also has not done anything to help LGBTQ+ people in Russia.
Currently, Russia is ranked Europe’s fourth least LGBT-friendly nation by ILGA-Europe, a network of European LGBT groups. In its 2016 report, ILGA-Europe stated that LGBTQ+ Russians face intolerance on a daily basis and law enforcement “does not take homophobic or transphobic motives into account in cases of violence, so access to justice for LGBTI victims of crime is an additional problem.”
It’s not just Trump and Putin. The idea that a conservative, homophobic politician must be closeted gets brought up quite often. People often speculate that Vice President Mike Pence must be secretly gay, and he is so ashamed that he lashes out at the LGBTQ+ community and tries to destroy their rights because he hates himself. For the last few years, Pence has responsible for some of the most hateful policies against LGBTQ+ people in this country and it most likely has nothing to do with his own sexuality. John Oliver did a segment on Pence and his homophobic actions a few months ago. A specifically awful policy Pence supports is conversion therapy, which The New York Times broke down in this detailed timeline.
People can be hateful because they just are. Or because their religion, class status, race and privilege allow them to be. Historically, have some homophobic politicians been outed as gay? Yes. But that doesn’t mean we can jump to the conclusion that every homophobic politician is.
So many “woke liberals” use sexuality as a joke. They think that because they’re making fun of Trump, it’s okay. If someone is awful, you can be ruthless in your “comedy” about them. However, as writer Laura Witt pointed out on Twitter, “Did it ever occur to people that “jokes” at the expense of marginalized people aren’t jokes at all but expressions of oppressive power? There’s nothing subversive or edgy about punching down.” She didn’t explicitly say this about Trump/Putin gay jokes, but it fits.
These jokes are just as bad as middle school when kids would say "that's gay" when they meant "stupid." It makes me, and many other LGBTQ+ people, uncomfortable. When saying, “oh this awful person must be gay,” you are subtly linking horrible behavior with homosexuality. It just adds negative stigma to the LGBTQ+ community. Using gayness as an insult is weaponizing it.
Gay comedian Jaboukie Young White recently tweeted, “implying that all homophobes are secretly gay allows straight people to blame gay people for homophobia,” and recommended that his followers read the book “Ties That Bind” by Sarah Schulman, which is about familial homophobia. Another popular gay male figure on Twitter, writer John Paul Brammer, recently tweeted about gay jokes, saying, “If your excuse for homophobic jokes is ‘no, it's funny because THEY hate gays and would hate being called gay!’ then you don't know how homophobia works lol like, yeah, a lot of men hate being called gay. it's why "gay" is used as an insult. what's your point?”
When you use being gay as an insult, you are saying that being gay is bad and wrong and something to be ashamed of. That it is a character flaw. Being queer is not a character flaw. Being homophobic, on the other hand, is.
And before you say “C’mon, they’re just jokes,” you need to understand that these words aren’t just anything, for all the reasons mentioned above. If you can’t find a way to make a joke about someone or distract yourself from the current political climate without being homophobic (or racist or classist or whatever), then you have a lot of learning to do.
Words: Caroline M.